Here are the questions from and my responses to the Vermont Conservation Voters’ (VCV) Candidate Questionnaire. While the “Yes/No” portion of the questionnaire didn’t ask for explanations, I have provided them anyway.
If elected, what three environmental issues will be a priority for you?
- Climate change
- Water quality
- Development & forest fragmentation
What leadership initiatives will you undertake to advance the issues you listed above?
- A revenue-neutral carbon tax
- Strengthening Act 250 to enforce runoff regulations
- Strengthening Act 250 to incentivize redevelopment over new development
What examples of environmental leadership can you cite from your past?
Aside from my personal practices to reduce my carbon and environmental footprint, I voted against changing the Town of Berlin’s zoning ordinance to allow development in Special Flood Hazard Areas. The zoning ordinance (which passed) made such development a conditional use and subject to some additional restrictions. I also voted against developing public access to Berlin Pond.
Please identify the priority environmental issue(s) in your district.
The issue of access to Berlin Pond is a hot-button issue, but I’m not sure that the Legislature would be terribly involved in it. I believe that energy costs and home weatherization (especially for low-income Berlin and Northfield residents) is a more important concern that the Legislature can have an impact upon.
Recent climate assessments by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and UVM reiterated the critical threat global warming poses worldwide and for Vermont. Do you support taking immediate action to put Vermont on track to meet the state’s Comprehensive Energy Plan goal of generating 90% of our energy from renewable sources by 2050?
Yes, and I’d be thrilled to see us exceed the 90% goal.
Would you support a policy that puts a price on the pollution that is contributing to global warming, while using some of the revenue generated to help Vermonters reduce home heating and other energy costs, and while ensuring the policy protects low-income Vermonters?
Yes, but I’d prefer if it was done in a revenue-neutral way, so that any proceeds from the tax are distributed evenly across all residents of Vermont.
Unlike approximately 30 other states, Vermont has not enacted a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). An RPS places an obligation on electric utilities to produce or acquire a specified fraction of their electricity from renewable energy sources. Would you support the Vermont legislature enacting a Renewable Portfolio Standard?
Yes, I think that such a standard will help us reach the 90% goal that we have set.
In 2008, Vermont enacted a statutory goal to substantially improve how efficiently we heat one in four (80,000) Vermont homes by 2020. To help determine how to meet this goal, in 2013 the Governor convened a Thermal Efficiency Task Force, which recommended a significant increase in State investment in weatherization and other heating efficiency measures. However, the legislature has not yet authorized the substantial increase in funding needed to meet this goal. Will you support a significant increase in State investment in weatherization programs?
Yes, while the cost is high, the long-term payoffs are much higher!
2. Clean Water
The State of Vermont and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are in the process of finalizing a new restoration plan for Lake Champlain and its tributaries. Too much polluted runoff – particularly phosphorus – is draining into the lake from parking lots, streets, logging roads, farms, and lawns. Phosphorus pollution enables excessive growth of algae, which can be toxic to pets and people and inhibits recreation on the lake.
Will you support funding a robust program to ensure Lake Champlain and other Vermont waterways are clean, which would include new pollution control investments by the State, and require currently unregulated polluters to help pay for the clean-up?
3. Planning, Smart Growth & Act 250
Development occurring along highways and on our farms and forests is increasing our dependence on individual automobile use, while fragmenting valuable habitat and working lands. Currently in Vermont, land is being developed at an average of about two and a half times the rate of population growth.
Should the State of Vermont and local communities target investments to focus development in our existing downtowns and village centers?
Yes, focusing on developing in our downtowns is extremely important to prevent additional forest fragmentation and reducing the need for car trips.
Act 250 is Vermont’s environmental review process for developments that have regional impacts. It was established in 1970 and is credited by many with helping maintain Vermont’s character and insulate it from some of the boom/bust development cycles experienced in other parts of the United States. Do you support maintaining or strengthening Act 250, and oppose efforts to weaken existing criteria?
Yes, and I believe that feedback from local residents near development projects need to be taken more into account.
In Vermont, planning and land use decisions are made at the local level, often by volunteer boards. Municipal planning grants, funded through a portion of the property transfer tax, help support this work. Should the state increase funding for local planning activities, including municipal planning grants?
Yes, as the Town of Berlin has been a recipient of such study grants, I wholeheartedly support them. It gives the municipality (especially small ones like Berlin without dedicated staff) a chance to learn what’s possible and feasible.
4. Waste Management
Recycling rates have stagnated in Vermont at around 36% in recent years, prompting the legislature to pass Act 148 in 2012. This legislation mandated recycling and composting, which will be phased in between now and 2020.
Do you support increased funding and/or fees to help support the Department of Environmental Conservation’s waste management program, helping ensure the state has the infrastructure and enforcement capacity needed to successfully implement mandatory recycling and composting?
Yes, but I think outreach and education should be stepped up first. Also, shifting the focus to manufacturers and asking them to consider the waste impacts of their products could allow us to move towards a cradle-to-cradle lifecycle for materials.
The Bottle Bill achieves the highest recycling rate of any program in the state, lowers litter rates, supports local charities, and employs hundreds of Vermonters. Will you support expanding the program to include other types of beverage containers, such as juices, sports drinks, and water bottles?
Yes, and I believe there is widespread support among Vermonters for such an expansion.
Seven out of ten states with Bottle Bills collect all or some of the “unclaimed deposits” consumers pay but fail to redeem. Do you support authorizing the State of Vermont to start collecting that money – estimated at $1-3 million per year – and using it to support recycling and other state programs, rather than allowing the beverage distributors to continue collecting it?
5. Toxic Consumer Products
The legislature just established a new toxic chemical program at the Department of Health, which creates a list of chemicals of high concern to children’s health, and requires manufacturers to report if they’re using those chemicals in children’s products sold in Vermont. The program also authorizes the Commissioner of Health to initiate a process that could lead to labeling or restrictions on the use of toxic chemicals in certain children’s products. Would you support expanding the toxic chemical program to cover a broader range of consumer products once the program is proven successful?
Yes – the bill that was passed was watered down from where it started, and I believe it should be expanded from where it is now.
6. Forests & Wildlife
Maintaining the long-term viability of Vermont’s forests for wildlife, recreation, carbon sequestration, watershed protection, sustainably managed forest products, and many diverse ecological services is integral to Vermont’s economy and quality of life. Subdivision and parcelization of forestland is increasing, resulting in fragmentation of the landscape, which negatively affects plant and animal species, wildlife habitat, and water quality.
On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest, how high of a priority do you feel it is to prevent forest fragmentation?
While I believe this issue is closely related to other bigger issues like climate change, I believe that forest fragmentation should be at priority 8.